When is the last time you set out to achieve an unattainable goal? True innovation happens outside of habit, far beyond the walls of any comfort zone. “The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive,” Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson famously remarked during his commencement speech at Kenyon College. In The Happiness of Pursuit:Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, entrepreneur and author Chris Guillebeau takes that point one step further, outlining a new definition of happiness: a state defined — not attained — by the act of striving.
Setting a goal you know you can achieve does nothing but document your own productivity. But when you set a goal you don’t know you can achieve, you catapult yourself into the terrifying, exhilarating act of pursuit.
Here are four things only pursuit can teach you:
What you’re really, truly curious about. Curiosity is a chemical process in the brain that occurs when we feel “a gap between what we know and what we do not know,” according to neurobiologist George Lowenstein. This gap works like a mental itch that must be scratched, driving us to close it by learning. “The lesson is that our desire for abstract information – this is the cause of curiosity – begins as a dopaminergic craving, rooted in the same primal pathway that also responds to sex, drugs and rock and roll,” writes Jonah Lehrer for Wired.
What is your itch? What questions do you go back to, over and over again? Follow those questions — they will lead you to the story you want to (and, subsequently, need to) tell.
Where you have gotten too comfortable. “[A quest] takes your patterns and your routines and kind of forces you to flip them and it can be uncomfortable,” Chris says. A daily routine can easily become a routine of comfort. By removing yourself from your usual patterns, you can quickly identify the habits and rituals that are holding you back.
How you want to be remarkable. A quest is an ambitious undertaking, one that illuminates the values you hold most dear. For Chris, his quest to see every country in the world was driven by his love of adventure, but even beyond that, how he wanted to prove to himself that he could be a person who had visited every country in the world. In his now-infamous essay “How to Do What You Love,” Paul Graham writes, “To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire.”
For Matt Krause, whose quest to walk across all of Turkey is featured in The Happiness of Pursuit, his motivation came from asking himself: “In ten years, what will make you prouder of yourself… having bought a flashy car, or having done something big and amazing?” On a whim, he chose Turkey. The productive force here is internal admiration; the legacy you want to create, not the life you want to live in comparison. Says writer Christy Campbell: “The minute I start comparing my trip, my day, my current situation with someone else’s, I’m missing out on how great my own story is, simply because it’s mine.”
What you fear. “Embracing new things often requires us to embrace our fears, however trivial they may seem,” writes Chris. And his point isn’t to extinguish your fears — but to acknowledge them and prevent them from limiting your choices. What are you most afraid of happening to you? Is that fear worth not telling your story?
Fear of the unknown is a powerful motivator on its own. What are you afraid of regretting if you never get around to starting? “Life is too short to settle,” Chris says. “If you want to achieve the unimaginable, start with imagining it.”